[SPOILERS for The Walking Dead ahead.]
The name of Sonequa Martin-Green's character on Star Trek: Discovery has been officially revealed, following the dramatic events of The Walking Dead season 7 finale last night. The zombie apocalypse is never kind, of course, but year after year we watch as beloved Walking Dead characters are dispatched with abandon. Death is a close friend for fans, and it’s a friend they met again last night.
Of course, it wasn’t entirely unexpected this time. The writing had been on the wall for The Walking Dead's Sasha, ever since Martin-Green (who plays the character) was cast in Discovery. That announcement was made just before Christmas, so fans had been expecting Sasha’s departure ever since. It was no doubt an emotional ending for the character, but fans of Martin-Green have a measure of solace coming their way with the actress set to play the lead in the upcoming Star Trek prequel TV show. Now, with Sasha seemingly gone from The Walking Dead, we know a bit more about her role in Discovery.
First Officer Michael Burnham was the name announced today by the official Star Trek: Discovery Twitter page. Earlier, it had been announced that Martin-Green would be portraying Lt. Commander Rainsford, so this new information suggests the character will be a bit different than was first imagined. She’ll be playing Number One against Jason Isaacs (the Harry Potter series) as Captain Lorca.
The name Michael raised a few eyebrows online, with many wondering if First Officer Burnham would be the first trans officer in Star Trek. While certainly fitting for the franchise’s history of progressive ideals, Michael isn’t always a male name. Michael Learned (The Waltons) and Michael Michelle (Gossip Girl, Blue Bloods) come immediately to mind, though they’re certainly not the only examples. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, to be sure, though it seems unlikely.
This is a progressive casting choice, however you cut it, seeing as we’ve never gotten a black woman as First Officer of a starship on a Star Trek TV show before. The original series featured the first interracial kiss on television; The Next Generation even touched upon issues of sexuality and gender expression in the episode “The Outcast” (featuring an androgynous species with strict rules against gender identity). While African-Americans and people of color have played large roles in Star Trek up to this point (Captain Sisko, Lt. Commander LaForge, Lt. Uhura, Commander Chakotay and so on), it’ll be interesting to see Starfleet from Burnham's perspective.
It should also be interesting to see just how life on a starship looks from the eyes of someone other than the captain. Though Star Trek has always been an ensemble show, most of the action tends to be centered around the decisions of the captains and how those affect the ship and crew. While we’ve gotten glimpses of the life of underlings here and there throughout the history of the franchise, centering a series around a commander has interesting implications for the next chapter.
The sudden promotion of her character from Lt. Commander to Commander is also intriguing. Discovery has undergone a somewhat tumultuous development period that has seen original Discovery showrunner Bryan Fuller step down, premiere dates pushed back and some fan outrage due to it airing on CBS All Access; a paid streaming site, rather than on TV proper. It’s possible that the Burnham was revamped along the way too, though CBS may have alternatively been keeping its secret until Martin-Green was officially gone from The Walking Dead.
Whatever the reason for the change, Star Trek: Discovery can’t come soon enough for fans. This series marks the first time that Star Trek has been on television since Enterprise was cancelled in 2005. While the Kelvin timeline Star Trek movie series started by J.J. Abrams has divided hardcore fans, Trekkies everywhere are hopeful that Discovery reignites classic passions for the final frontier. Martin-Green has certainly proven herself capable as an actress, so there can be little doubt that she’ll be boldly going into her next role.
Star Trek: Discovery premieres later this year on CBS All Access.